The roller-coaster relations between China and the United States have soured yet again, this time over the sensitive little nation called Taiwan ~ traditionally tied to the coat-tails of the White House.
The Pentagon has let it be known that the State Department has approved the potential sale to Taiwan of arms worth $2.2 billion, including 108 Abrams tanks and 250 Stinger missiles.
Predictably, Monday’s announcement has been greeted with anger by Beijing, which views Taiwan as part of its territory and has previously expressed “serious concerns” about the possible sale.
It has opposed the sale saying the US should realise the ‘damaging nature of their decision’. In China’s perception of the geopolitical scenario, war with the US would be a disaster.
That statement in itself is testament to the degree to which ~ in the perception of Beijing ~ there has been a renewed escalation of tension, almost to the point of a clash of shields. Indeed, the parade of armoured vehicles, though not fitted with weapons, in front of Taiwan’s presidential palace on Monday was awesome enough. The proposed tank sale ~ subject to the formality of Congress approval ~ would “contribute to the modernization of the recipient’s main battle tank fleet, enhancing its ability to meet current and future regional threats and to strengthen its homeland defence,” according to the Defence Security Cooperation Agency.
But the sale will not alter the “basic military balance in the region.” On closer reflection, the build-up began in March when Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, affirmed that Washington was responding positively to Taipei’s requests for fresh arms sales to bolster its defences in the face of pressure from China.
The United States has no formal ties with Taiwan, but is bound by law to help provide it with the means to defend itself. It now transpires that earlier this month, Beijing had first registered its opposition to the mutually-agreed arrangement on arms sale that comes in the midst of a US-China trade war.
On closer reflection, the souring of relations is rooted in history. Taiwan has been ruled separately since the end of a civil war in 1949, but China has vowed to take control of the island, by force if necessary. It has significantly stepped up diplomatic and military pressure on Taipei ever since Tsai Ing-wen was elected as President in 2016.
It has staged military exercises near the island, and steadily reduced the already small number of nations that recognize Taiwan. The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, but Taipei has remained an important ally. Ergo, geopolitics has been a complex cocktail and the arms race as it were has brought matters to a head. Abrams tanks and anti-aircraft missiles that can be quickly moved by soldiers in the field would significantly increase Taiwan’s ability to destroy Chinese armour and warplanes in the event of an invasion.